Increasing forest fires and hotspots in Indonesia have been in the news in recent weeks. According to Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) 280 hotspots were detected across Indonesia (Aug 6). In Singapore, the NEA has started issuing daily haze advisories from Aug 4 because of the increase in the number of hotspots.
As the dry season continues, BNPB expects the number of fires to go up. Although Indonesia has assured that the 2015 haze will not recur, escalating forest fires continue to pose a risk. Peat fires have been raging just 100 km away from Singapore. Fortunately winds have not been blowing it our way.
Biodiversity loss, deforestation, fires and air pollution in the region continue because the root causes remain unresolved. PM.Haze’s analysis of the hotspots shows that majority of the hotspots are on peat lands. In their natural state, peat lands are wet and swampy. But draining the peat to grow oil palm and pulp for paper creates a flammable landscape especially in the dry season.
Two recent developments concerning peat lands highlight the complexity of peat land management –
The first one is progressive; it is about efforts to rewet vast tracts of peat lands damaged by fires. As part of this effort, Indonesia has blocked a major artery in haze causing Mega Rice canal network. This will help in keeping the peat lands moist and prevent fires. About 40 % of the project has been completed in the first phase; the entire project is scheduled for completion in 2019.
PM Haze is also involved in ground solutions such as canal blocking to prevent the haze. We have blocked 2 canals so far – one in Malaysia and one recently in Indonesia.
The second issue is the ongoing debate on the Indonesian palm oil bill for regulating the plantation sector. While legislators are pushing for the bill saying it will help farmers and protect the country’s palm oil industry, several experts have urged the government to revise the draft of the bill. They say it is too lenient to producer companies and the provision of too many fiscal incentives will lead to expansion of oil palm plantations. This will have an adverse effect on the sustainability and diversity of forests. (The Jakarta Post, 8 June 2017)
While the above issues are more at the government level, it is the ever-increasing demand for palm oil that is driving the expansion of the industry. Forests being burnt to make way for oil palm plantations are one of the main causes of the haze. Consumers can play their part by demanding palm oil that is haze free – produced without burning, deforestation, peat and exploitation.